In general, East Baton Rouge is a competitive parish that Republicans usually carry. We will analyze this competitiveness in the context of its electoral performance in presidential elections between 1976 and 2008.
While in recent memory the parish has voted Republican for President (with the exceptions of 1996 and 2008), the GOP victory percentages have only exceeded 55% of the vote twice – in 1984 and 1988. What causes this political competitiveness? While the white collar work force, presence of several large fundamentalist churches, and its higher income levels (relative to the rest of the state) create a Republican constituency, the steadily increasing black voter population from 27% (in 1988) to 41% of the electorate gives the Democrats a significant base as well. Democrats can also draw additional voter support from the presence of state government and the LSU/Southern faculties. Increasing suburbanization migration to Livingston and Ascension Parishes (their voter populations have increased 28 and 44%, respectively, since 2000) also strengthens the Democratic voter tendencies in East Baton Rouge, since the white voters that remain in the parish tend to be more “Garden District liberal.”
In political terms, this means that a politician relying on the old paradigm of North Baton Rouge (traditionally the neighborhoods where the plant workers lived) vs South Baton Rouge (where the professionals and university professors lived) vs black Baton Rouge will increasingly be on the losing end of campaigns. With the increase in the black voter population occurring as white middle class and/or blue collar voters relocate to Livingston and Ascension Parishes, the fulcrum in parish elections is no longer the precincts in Baker, Zachary, or near Redemptorist (a Catholic high school in old North Baton Rouge), but increasingly the neighborhoods along Highland and Perkins roads between City Park and the Country Club of Louisiana, which are populated by white collar professionals. While these neighborhoods have a basic Republican preference, the strength of their preference is milder than in similar homes in Shenandoah or Bocage, and these “Highland Perkins-ers” will not hesitate to vote Democratic if the Republican candidate is perceived to be too conservative. For further discussion of the regions of East Baton Rouge Parish, click here
If you were to look at the attached spreadsheet showing the presidential election results, you’ll notice that the base Republican vote in Southeast Baton Rouge (those precincts east of I-10 and south of Florida Boulevard that consistently vote 3 and 4 to 1 Republican) has been joined by an increasingly Republican voting Central, whose 44% of the vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976 hasn’t been exceeded since. These two areas together comprise 37% of the registered voters in East Baton Rouge Parish. Republicans can count on mild, but not strong, support from the more moderate neighborhoods along Highland and Perkins roads – their GOP support is typically at the 5 to 3 level in Presidential elections, and these areas now represent 22% of the registered voters. While the Democratic vote historically was concentrated in precincts between LSU and Southern universities that represent 24% of registered voters, this vote has been augmented by the continuous black migration into Baker and neighborhoods between Florida Boulevard and Greenwell Springs Road, to the point that 2 and 3 to 1 Democratic margins are commonplace there. All in all, these patterns of support result in a politically marginal parish that, depending on your point of view, is either “light blue” or “light red.”
In the next posting, we will discuss how Barack Obama became only the second Democrat since 1960 to carry East Baton Rouge Parish.